England’s Cathedrals, Abbeys, and Medieval Painted Churches

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5363
  • July 20 – August 3, 2024
  • 14 Days
  • $10,295.00 + air
  • Single Supplement: $1495.00

Embark on a Cathedral Tour of England: Medieval Masterpieces from Durham to Canterbury

During the medieval era, England witnessed the establishment of nearly a thousand religious edifices, including abbeys, priories, cathedrals, and friaries. The grandeur of their architecture and embellishments symbolized the Church’s devotion and reverence to God. Even modest parish churches showcased splendid biblical scenes painted with great care.

Far Horizons presents a select group of 14 participants with a two-week journey through England’s rich medieval history. Our meticulously curated route unveils both renowned and secluded gems that house some of the finest art and architectural marvels from the Middle Ages. 

The highlights include awe-inspiring cathedrals, remnants of ancient sanctuaries, and churches adorned with vivid, centuries-old biblical illustrations, which once aided priests in educating their largely illiterate congregation.

A Medieval Holiday in England: Tracing the Legacy of Faith and Artistry

Our guided tour of England commences at the illustrious Durham Cathedral, then winds its way through the ruins of Fountains Abbey and onto quaint village churches, each guarding its treasure trove of medieval art and architectural details.

Spanning from the northernmost regions, westwards to Bath, and then southeast to the historical Canterbury, our itinerary encompasses four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Guests will dine and rest in handpicked traditional pubs and inns to enjoy the historical ambiance.

Read the full itinerary below. If you have any questions, please get in touch.

(Browse our other historical tours of England with our Calendar of Trips.)

Guided Tour of England Led by:

Dr William R. Cook

Professor of History

State University of New York – Geneseo
Department of History

Why Take this Medieval History Tour of England?

  • Led by William R. Cook, medieval history specialist and lecturer for the Great Courses
  • Experience Evensong at Oxford’s Christchurch
  • Observe one of only four remaining Magna Cartas
  • See Four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Cathedrals of Durham & Canterbury, the city of Bath and Fountains Abbey
  • View rarely visited medieval frescoes in remote parish churches
  • Limited to 14 participants

Guided Tour of England Itinerary

(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner

Day 1Depart for England

Depart on an overnight flight to Newcastle, England.

Day 2Arrive into Newcastle, Durham Cathedral

Arrive Newcastle upon Tyne Airport in the early morning. Then, drive to Durham where we will have our lunch. In the afternoon, enter monumental Durham Cathedral, regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle which faces it across Palace Green. 

The cathedral was constructed between 1093 and 1133 to house the shrine of St. Cuthbert. This venerated preacher in the 7th century was responsible for the spread of Christianity in the North of England. Durham Cathedral attests to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community. It is the oldest surviving building with a stone vaulted ceiling of such a large scale.

We will enter the new Open Treasure Exhibit, located in previously hidden spaces within the Cathedral Cloister. Here, 2,000 years of history are on display.

Overnight at the Marriott Hotel in Durham, located within walking distance of the Cathedral. Gather this evening for our welcome dinner party. (L/D)

Day 3Rievaulx Abbey, York Minster

This morning’s drive takes us to Rievaulx Abbey, the splendid remains of one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries. We will learn about the monks who dwelled here in medieval times – how they devoted their lives to spiritual matters and at the same time established a thriving business to become one of the wealthiest monasteries in Britain. Our visit will include the abbey’s museum with displays of previously unseen artifacts.

Continue to York, one of England’s finest and most beautiful historic cities. Our destination is the Cathedral and Church of St Peter, better known as York Minster. The magnificent structure’s Gothic style is most notable for its distinctive pointed arches and its gorgeous ornamentation. This is England’s treasure house of stained glass, with a larger and more varied collection of windows than any other building in the country. The Great East Window is thought to be the largest area of stained glass in the world. The panels depict the beginning and end of the world according to the Book of Genesis, scenes from the Acts of Apostles and the Book of Revelations.

To the west of York Minster can be seen the ruined Benedictine abbey of St. Mary, once the richest religious house in England.

Overnight for three nights in the charming Dean Court Hotel, sited within three Victorian houses overlooking the Cathedral in York. (B/ /D)

Day 4Whitby Abbey, Pickering and Barton-le-Street Churches

Our drive outside York takes us north to imposing Whitby Abbey, a 7th century monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey. The building and its possessions were confiscated by the crown during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Perched high on a cliff, it’s easy to see why the haunting remains were inspiration for Bram Stoker’s tale of ‘Dracula’. 

Heading back towards York, stop in the market town of Pickering to visit St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. During the medieval period nearly all houses of worship were painted with scenes from the bible so that priests could use the images to teach to the mostly illiterate parishioners about the bible and aspects of morality. Inside this village parish church the compositions, created sometime between 1461 and 1483, cover the majority of the nave walls and depict scenes from the lives of the saints, the seven corporal acts of mercy, and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, together with the torments of the inferno.

Our final stop will be the village of Barton-le-Street and the Church of Michael & All Angels containing a treasure house of Norman sculpture, including some of the finest chancel arch capitals found anywhere in England. (B/L/D)

Day 5Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Park

A one hour drive takes us to Fountains Abbey, one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian monasteries in England. The religious complex was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St. Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the remains of the abbey are enclosed within the 18th-century landscape of Studley Royal Park. There will be time to walk through the water garden here that was created in 1718 and is one of the best surviving examples of a Georgian water garden in England.

Return to York with the afternoon and dinner on our own. This evening we may want to hear the choral singing at York Minster. (B/L)

Day 6Lincoln Cathedral, Brant Broughton and Corby Glen Churches

Lincoln Cathedral dates from 1072 when William the Conqueror instructed that the bishopric of this, then the largest diocese in England, be moved from Dorchester, near Oxford, to Lincoln. In spite of its size, the sanctuary is filled with intricate details and is one of the high points of Gothic architecture. The nave is awe-inspiring, with slender pillars of Purbeck marble rising up to the painted ceiling high above. Two glorious rose windows light the transept. The earliest is the Dean’s Eye window, dating from 1220, still with much of its original medieval glass depicting the Last Judgment.

As we continue south, stop in Brant Broughton to see the small Church of St. Helen covered with attractive carved decoration, both on the exterior and interior of the building. Time permitting, continue to Corby Glen to enter St. John’s Church. The earliest part of the church, the north aisle, dates from the late 13th century. It is celebrated for its medieval wall paintings covering the interior. These fascinating illustrations were discovered, buried under layers of plaster and whitewash, by a churchwarden when redecorating the church in 1939. The images include a Tree of Jesse, a depiction of the ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David.

Continue to Peterborough and overnight for two nights in The Bull, originally dating back to the 17th century and a 5-minute walk from Peterborough Cathedral. Dinner will be in one of Peterborough’s finest restaurants, a short walk from the hotel. (B/ /D)

Day 7Peterborough Cathedral, Longthorpe Tower, St. Kyneburgha’s Church

Begin in Peterborough Cathedral, one of the most intact Norman buildings in England. It is renowned for its imposing early English Gothic West Front which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent. Nearby Longthorpe Tower, built around 1300, is a rare surviving medieval tower house. The Great Chamber on the first floor was the family’s private living and sleeping quarters. The walls of this room are adorned with some of the finest and most complete examples of medieval domestic art in northern Europe. The religious and mythical depictions offer an intriguing insight into the mind of the Middle Ages and demonstrate the often blurred line dividing the sacred and secular during this period.

We move on to the tiny village of Castor, dominated by St. Kyneburgha’s Church. One of the finest Norman churches in England, St. Kyneburgha’s is filled with spectacular treasures. An 8th-century carving of St Mark was found under the altar rails when they were removed and is said to be from the original shrine of St. Kyneburgha. A fragment of an Anglo-Saxon cross is displayed in the north aisle that is believed to be a re-used Roman pagan altar. And each of the round Norman arches has wonderfully-carved capitals. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

Day 8 Ely Cathedral, Beckley Church

After a morning and lunch on our own, we drive to Ely Cathedral, one of the marvels of the medieval world and the only UK building to be listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages”. The present structure dates from 1081 and is a remarkable example of both Romanesque and Norman architecture. The famous Lantern which towers 70 feet over the center of the church is truly a masterpiece of engineering.

Continue on to Oxford and overnight for two nights in the Mercure Eastgate Hotel, located in the heart of the University of Oxford. (B/ /D)

Day 9Oxford, St. James the Great Church

Oxford is a gorgeous city of captivating architecture, history and culture, and Oxford University, in existence for 1000 years, is the oldest institution of higher education in the English-speaking world. Today we will enjoy tours of several of the university buildings.

Christchurch Cathedral is the smallest cathedral in England and the seat of the Bishop of Oxford. This medieval structure contains the Shrine of St. Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint. Frideswide hid in a tree to escape from the pursuit of a king and a worldly life. Search among the arches in the shrine to see her face peering from the vegetation.

Attached to the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest in Europe, the Divinity School was constructed in the 15th century as a school of theology. Although no longer used for that purpose, it was used as the Hogwart’s Hospital in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Late Gothic Ceiling, designed by William Orchard in the 1480s, consists of very elaborate lierne vaulting with bosses. Despite its name, New College is one of the oldest of the Oxford colleges, and is renowned for its grand interior and superb medieval stained glass.

In the early evening, enjoy an optional return to the university for the Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral. (B/ /D)

Day 10 Wells Cathedral

Depart Oxford and meander through the stunning landscape of the Mendip foothills into the Somerset District to reach Wells, England’s smallest city. Famed for its medieval architecture, Wells is home to a magnificent cathedral, the earliest English cathedral to be built in the Gothic style, and the nearby Bishop’s Palace, home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years.

The Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, commonly known as Wells Cathedral, was erected between the 12th and 15th centuries, and is dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle. The stunning West Front is decorated with 500 sculptures of kings, saints, and bishops that were originally decorated with red and green paint. . The interior is an elegant example of Early English Gothic and contains three scissor arches that were added in 1338 to support the central tower. The medieval art inside includes the Jesse Window that contains the family tree of Christ in stained glass and an astronomical clock made in 1390 with jousting knights that charge outside their castle four times an hour.

In the afternoon, we will walk through the portcullis and cross the drawbridge spanning the moat (with resplendent swans who ring a bell for food), to enter the picturesque Bishop’s Palace. Within the fortified Palace walls are found the remains of the Great Hall, the Bishop’s private chapel and 14 acres of gardens.

Overnight for one night at the historic Crown Hotel in Wells, located just steps from the cathedral. (B/L/D)

Day 11Bath, Holy Trinity Church

Begin today with a drive to picturesque Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Here we will explore Bath Abbey, a parish church of the Church of England and former Benedictine monastery. Founded in the 7th century, it was reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. It is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in England.

We continue to Bradford on Avon, a charming town with one of the best-preserved Anglo-Saxon parish churches. Major work was carried out in 1864 to “restore” the internal appearance to suit Victorian taste. This resulted in stripping out many Georgian features, including the box pews, galleries, wooden pulpit and plaster ceiling.

In the late afternoon, drive to Salisbury and overnight for two nights at the Mercure Salisbury White Hart Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 12St. Thomas Becket Church, Salisbury Cathedral

Begin the day in St. Thomas Becket Church, where a 15th century mural of the Last Judgment dominates the chancel arch.

Then it’s on to Salisbury Cathedral, the finest example of Early English architecture in the country. Built almost entirely in the 13th century, the final structure boasts the tallest spire and the largest cloisters in England. Salisbury Cathedral owns one of only four surviving copies of Magna Carta, signed in 1215. Sunlight filtering through the windows of the cathedral’s Chapter House, where the Magna Carta is displayed, will add a mythical touch when looking at the beautifully rendered Latin text written on the aged parchment. Walk up 332 steps to the tallest spire in England on a specially arranged tour. Enjoy unimpeded views of the spectacular Nave from above and admire the West Window at close quarters while we learn how this architectural masterpiece was constructed. (B/ /D)

Day 13Winchester Cathedral

The historic city of Winchester and its awe-inspiring Cathedral, the longest medieval cathedral in Britain, is our destination today. Dating from 1079, it was built in the Norman Romanesque style with the towering Perpendicular Gothic nave the focal point. But equally impressive are the reredos, ornamental wooden screens behind the altar, and the carved choir stalls embellished with plants, animals, dragons.

We will walk to The Chesil Rectory for a special lunch. Dating back to 1450, this beautifully preserved city landmark has been stylishly refurbished and retains solid oak beams, ancient doorways and beautiful open fireplaces.

After lunch, continue to London and overnight for two nights at the Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

Day 14Canterbury Cathedral

Today’s all-day excursion takes us into southeastern England to Canterbury, a site of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. Fortification walls, originally built by the Romans, encircle the city’s medieval center and its picturesque cobblestone streets and timber-framed houses.

Canterbury Cathedral has been the primary ecclesiastical center of England since the early 7th century. The seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a stunning blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It became a pilgrimage site with the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in 1170 and the glorious stained glass windows in the Cathedral depict miracles performed by the saint.

We will have lunch in one of Canterbury’s fine bistros before we return to the Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow. Gather this evening for our final dinner party. (B/L/D)

Day 15Depart England

Transfer to the airport for our flights back home. (B)

Tour Information

Tour Cost & Inclusions

Price is based on double occupancy and includes:

  • Internal flights during the trip (if applicable)
  • The accompaniment of your scholar throughout the entire trip
  • Local English-speaking guide
  • Hotel accommodations (3 or 4 stars; or best available based in the area)
  • Ground transportation
  • Airport transfers for arrivals and departures
  • Most meals as noted in the itinerary
  • Entry fees to all included sites and museums
  • Gratuities to guides, drivers, and restaurant and hotel staff
  • Coordination for any private presentations or tours

Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.

Single Supplement

Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.

Exclusions

  • International round trip airfare
  • A separate donation check of $150.00 per person to a designated donation project
  • Passport or visa fees
  • Required vaccines or tests
  • Airport or departure taxes
  • Alcoholic drinks, beverages or food not included on set menus
  • Excess baggage charges
  • Personal tips and hotel incidental expenses
  • Laundry or other items of a personal nature

Donation Checks

As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.

Exchange Rate Fluctuations

Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.

Registration

A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.

Cancellation

Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.

Air Ticketing

International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.

Private Tours and Talks

The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.

Walking and Standing

Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.

Travel in This Part of the World

This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.

Itinerary Changes

Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.

Travel Insurance

We strongly recommend that you consider purchasing travel insurance. Should illness or an unforeseen event force you to cancel your travel plans after your final payment or during your trip, it would be doubly unfortunate to incur a significant financial loss. Trip cancellation protection will enable you to be reimbursed for the loss of your payment if you are unable to travel for any of the covered reasons in the “Outline of Coverage” section, or should you have an accident or suffer from any medical conditions during the trip.  
Far Horizons offers customized protection plans through Travel Insured International (a Crum & Forster Company) with the following benefits:
 
• Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption for covered reasons
• Trip Delay
• Baggage Loss and Baggage Delay
• Emergency Medical Expenses and Emergency Medical Evacuation
• 24-Hour Accidental Death & Dismemberment
• 24-Hour Travel Assistance & Concierge Services
• Option to upgrade to ‘Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR)’
 
We recommend reviewing the language in detail so you are aware of specific parameters; Depending on the policy, to waive the Pre-Existing Medical Condition Exclusion or to upgrade to CFAR coverage, the plan must be purchased within 14 to 21 days of the initial trip deposit, full trip cost must be insured, and traveler is medically fit at time of plan purchase. Otherwise, coverage may be purchased at any time prior to departure. 
 
To obtain a personalized quote and/or purchase a plan through Far Horizons/Travel Insured International, simply click HERE. For specific questions regarding the Worldwide Protector Plan, please contact Travel Insured International’s Customer Care Center at 1-800-243-3174 or by email at customercare@travelinsured.com, and refer to Far Horizons’ account number: 54070.

Tour Map